Faces of AWNY: Kate Robertson

Sydney-born writer and academic, Kate Robertson, has well and truly immersed herself in the surrounds of her new home, Brooklyn. Fittingly, she recently published a book exploring what home means and the search for community, for artists lured by opportunities abroad – and wrote much of it at her favorite local cafe. Ahead of her book launch in January 2020, we get to know Kate and her experience of researching and completing her book.

Australian woman in Brooklyn coffee shop cafe with cup of coffee
Image by Kate Robertson

Where are you from?

How long have you lived in New York and what brought you here?
I’ve been in New York a few years, moving after my partner got a job here.

What do you do for work in NYC?
I work in PR for a firm that specialises in art, architecture and design.

Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?
Williamsburg. I’ve been here a few years and I love it. It has good food, coffee, vintage shopping, cinemas, parks and is only one subway stop from the city.

What are your favorite New York spots?
This summer I loved Domino Park for the grass, a cool breeze off the water, late night walks, and stunning views of Manhattan. I spend an obscene amount of time at my local cafe, Black Brick Coffee. It has a great hidden cacti-filled courtyard. It is mostly visited by other people who live in its radius and the baristas likely know more about my day-to-day life than most people I know. I finished my book there!

Where do you like to eat brunch in New York?
Weekend brunches are great when they are relaxed and in walking distance. Tabare is one of my favourite places for that. Gertie is one of the best new places in the area but if friends are in town, we always go to Jimmy’s Diner. The shakes are fantastic.

What is your favorite New York City cocktail spot/wine bar?
I love St Maizie Bar and Supper Club in Williamsburg. It offers a relaxed courtyard with lots of greenery and a warm 20s-style bar (the old fashioned is great) inside with live jazz.

Do you have a recent “only in New York” moment you could share?
I feel like every time I get on the subway, I have an “only in New York” moment.

What are your top three tips for friends visiting New York?

  1. Leave Manhattan and do not stay at Times Square.
  2. Take the subway. It’s quick, cheap, fairly easy to navigate (especially with google maps) and gets you almost anywhere.
  3. Make a list of things you want to do and be prepared to halve it. Be flexible and enjoy things that come up during your stay. That random invite from a friend of a friend’s cousin to a gig might end up being the highlight of your trip, or that cafe you find on your way to breakfast could be known for its amazing coffee. 

As a professional working in New York, what are the differences to working in Australia?
As I do a lot of writing, a small thing I’ve found hard to remember is expressing the date backwards, ie month then day, and spelling, like using “z” not “s” or dropping letters, like “catalogue” is “catalog”. 

What advice do you have for people moving to New York City?
Prepare as much as you can. Have some savings and then double it. Prepare a resume for the local market (and get a phone number first thing). Reach out to everyone you know to find contacts here and start developing your network as soon as you arrive, if not before. Research things like health insurance, how to get your Social Security Number, the neighbourhood you want to live in etc. 

Is there anything you miss about Australia? What things do you do to keep homesickness under control?
I miss summer especially the beach. One of the biggest things I miss is easy and cheap access to fresh produce. It’s much harder to find here than in Australia. Some days I’d give my left elbow for some Cadbury chocolate or Twisties.

The health insurance system here also really makes me appreciate Australia. It is convoluted, opaque, expensive, hard to navigate, tied to a job for full-time employees (so people usually must change providers when moving jobs) and all these limitations mean it is out of reach for a lot of people.

Do you have any hobbies, activities or rituals that help you stay sane in this city?
I walk, a lot. As much as possible. Not very exciting but it helps! New York is a very walkable city (and I’m lucky that I can walk across the Williamsburg Bridge).

Do you have a signature Aussie saying that stumps New Yorkers every time?
“I’m knackered” is always met with confusion. 

Is there anything extra that people should know about you or New York?
I’m an Australian writer and academic who writes about art, film and visual culture. I have a PhD from the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney, where I taught for several years. 

I started researching my book, Identity, Community & Australian Artists, 1890-1914: Paris, London and Further Afield (Bloomsbury Academic) more than a decade ago and my study of the experiences of Australians living abroad, of being overwhelmed by a new life, working out what home means and the search for community, became especially personal when I—finally—completed this book while living in New York. 

Tell us more about your book: Who will it appeal to and where can they purchase it?
What I think will resonate the most with people here in New York, the people who would come to the launch, is that it is about leaving home in search of another. Australians have always travelled. The artists in this book were lured abroad by the promise of wonderful opportunities just like many of us are.

Identity, Community & Australian Artists, 1890-1914: Paris, London and Further Afield (Bloomsbury Academic) is available for purchase from Bloomsbury and Amazon.

Tell us about your book launch:

The launch of my book, Identity, Community & Australian Artists, 1890-1914: Paris, London and Further Afield, will include a conversation between myself and Laura Jones, an artist whose exhibition will be concurrently on display at the Olsen Gruin Gallery. 

  • Date: Thursday, January 23, 2020
  • Time: 6-9pm
  • Where: Olsen Gruin Gallery, 30 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
  • Who: The event is open to all.
  • Cost: $15 general public/$5 AWNY & AAA members
  • RSVP: Tickets are available via the AAA website ticket link.

Connect with Kate:

Author: Angela Tohl

Adelaide-born Angela came to New York in search of the ultimate adventure, by way of Australia and Japan. She juggles technical and copywriting projects, with chasing her kids around (usually on roller skates). Find Angela on Twitter @angelatohl and at www.australianwomeninnewyork.org/author/angelatohl/. Image credit: Susie Lang

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